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Serbia: Torture or Therapy?

Last week, on May 21, a short film about torture in the Spiritual Rehabilitation Center “Crna Reka”, located in south-western Serbia, was shown on the web site of the Time (Vreme), a Serbian weekly magazine. The patients of this center are drug addicts and its head is Branislav Peranovic, a Serbian Orthodox priest.

Nearly all Serbian media have shown the horrible scenes from the short film, in which Peranovic is shown beating one of the patients brutally with a spade and with his fists.

Ombudsman of citizens, Sasa Jankovic, is one of the officials who reacted very quickly. According to the Vreme web site, Jankovic said that he had brought criminal charges against nine identified persons from the Spiritual Rehabilitation Center “Crna Reka” near Novi Pazar because of quackery and committing assault and battery. Jankovic also said that, according to the video, it was obvious that the patients of the center had been injured very seriously and that could not be a treatment or therapy.

Serbian bloggers reacted to the report very quickly, too, and so did representatives of the Spiritual Rehabilitation Center “Crna Reka” and the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Ivan only posted the video instead of words on his blog. Here are some of the comments:

WarnY, 5/21/2009:

Initially, I felt nauseous.

Then I thought it over and recalled one talk with my friends, and realized that everything does not look the way it is.

Namely, the word is about people who are on a path with no return. For them and their families anything is more acceptable than if they go on with their lives the way they used to. [...]

Ivan replied: 5/22/2009:

Yes, everything that you said is right but when I saw how that hippopotamus was breaking his jaws, I felt ill.

Banjac, 5/23/2009:

In comparison with tortures that drug addicts have survived because of thefts and crimes that they committed, what was shown in the video represents insignificant torture. If drug addicts break a car lock and steal a radio from it, they will be beaten much more. Finally, ask drug addicts’ families how much difficulties and sufferings they have survived and ask them whether they agree with the methods of priest Branislav, and I know surely that they are do not mind. He accepted this job with all his heart and he is trying to help. The torture that was shown in the video is a natural thing in those circles, where it is very difficult for a man to think rationally and humanly. In the end, the “Crna Reka” center is not a source of drug addicts, but the place of Christ’s resurrection who bled for all of us. By faith in God, have my absolute support, priest Branislav.

Foxy Lady, 5/25/2009:

I didn’t watch this video because I am quite a young girl. I just read about it.

I don’t know how drug addicts are, and don’t know what kinds of treatments are being used in hospitals, but I know that if they beat a drug addict, they will get a beaten but not a treated drug addict as a result.

Arnam, 5/27/2009:

This is terrible, such cretins should be arrested. This is pouring out of the vials on people. Regardless of whether someone is a drug addict or not, such act is not normal and has nothing to do with treatment. What's happening is a catastrophe.

On the official web site of the Spiritual Rehabilitation Center “Crna Reka” the following is published, among other things:

[...] Chronology is simple. Biden comes to Serbia. Bishop Artemije doesn’t welcome him in the High Dečani monastery since he represents the occupying forces. Domestic progressive forces are bitter and use the video to discredit bishop Artemije who gave his blessings for the founding of the center as well as priest Branislav who has been the center's head for about ten years. [...]

Will Serbian drug addicts be finally thankful to Biden for all that he did for him as well as in Serbia and Kosovo and Afghanistan? [...]

Peranovic’s statement to the B92 TV station was published on the Vreme’s site:

“We sometimes use force, of course, in agreement with the parents. And patients were warned just in time that we would not tolerate the violation of our rules. Those who have a drug addict at home knows well what I'm speaking about.”

Silja, one of patients of the “Crna Reka” center, says:

I am Silja and I have been a patient of the “Crna Reka” center from October 29, 2008. I think that I am more competent than any journalist to speak about this topic. I have a message for everyone who believes the orchestrated attacks on the Orthodox Missionary and Spiritual Rehabilitation Center “Crna Reka” – the attacks in which all the media in Serbia took part: stop condemning the center’s staff for something that they had no personal experiences with. It is an absolute falsehood that torture is used as therapy. If there is a torture, it is applied to small patients who don’t obey the rules in the center and who hinder all of us who want to treat ourselves. It is strictly forbidden to bring drugs into the center, any kind of physical conflicts as well as thefts, insulting, running away from the center. Each violation of these rules has to be punished. That happens rarely and it is used in case of need. There are a lot of patients in the center and if the rules are not obeyed, it would be chaos there. You have to know that drug addict is ready to do anything when he is in crisis.

Serbian blogger Markos wrote on his blog on the web site titled Trista cuda:

[...] Some of the parents who were at the camp yesterday had an absolutely different opinion from the majority of the public regarding the brutal methods of re-education of drug addicts. [...]

Markos quoted a statement of Vera from Novi Sad, mother of one of the patients:

“My son has been staying there for four years. If he had not come to the center, he would have not survived. I bought a rope for him and I said to him that he should hang himself if he could not live without drugs.”

She added that she was against torture. But treatment in the Institute for Substance Abuse didn’t help her son. He came out from there after [nine sorts of remedies had been tried on him, but still remained a drug addict].

Blogger Nikola Knezevic quoted a statement of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, among other things. Here is an excerpt of it:

The Holy Synod of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church received with astonishment and regret news about brutal violence toward patients of the substance abuse in monastery Crna Reka in the Rasko-Prizrenska Eparchy. Records which were shown and acknowledgment by clergyman are irrefutable evidence of violence which is absolutely unknown to evangelic spirit and the Church’s mission.

Because of that, Synod calls reverend bishop Artemije to immediately dismiss illegal stationary and bring church-legal action against clergymen who committed the violence. [...]

Knezevic concluded his post with these words:

What astonished and shocked as much as the incident did is the high level of masochism of parents. In accordance with the principle “the end justifies the means,” they were absolutely indifferent to or supported the way in which their children were treated in the “Crna Reka” center. It is surely one more alarming sign that violence has become acceptable in our society.

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